Clinical Trials for Mesothelioma

Thanks to clinical trial research, more people with mesothelioma are living longer and enjoying better quality of life. Researchers hope to soon discover a combination of drugs and therapies to effectively manage mesothelioma and keep it under control.

There are some uncertainties for participants in clinical trials. For example, patients are unsure if the treatment will work and whether they’ll hand side effects well. In double-blind studies, the patient nor the researcher know if they’re receiving a placebo.  Despite the uncertainties, the potential payoff is a longer, healthier life.

People with rare, incurable diseases such as mesothelioma have outlived typical survival rates by participating in clinical trials.

Mesothelioma is diagnosed in less than 3,000 Americans a year. The cancer is caused by asbestos exposure and most often develops in the lining of the lungs.

Low incidence typically translates into low participation rates in clinical trials for rare diseases. Not enough people are available and willing to participate.

Many people are understandably hesitant to sign up for treatment with an uncertain outcome. However, clinical trial participants help make new treatments available to others coping with the same condition. It’s a way to pay it forward.

Bringing Therapies to Market

Every currently approved cancer treatment underwent clinical trials to ensure safety and efficacy. Clinical trials advance and improve cancer therapies, help cancer patients live longer and often improve their quality of life.

For example, in 2003, one of the rare phase III clinical trials for mesothelioma proved two chemotherapy drugs, cisplatin and pemetrexed, worked better together than alone, and worked better together than other drug combinations. Participants receiving the two drugs lived longer and reported reduced pulmonary symptoms. These drugs remain the standard of care treatment for mesothelioma.

Numerous mesothelioma clinical trials throughout the country are seeking participants. Mesothelioma researchers struggle with low participation rates. Sometimes it takes years to gather enough participants to amass statistical significance.

Benefits and Misconceptions

The primary benefits of clinical trials include a chance at longer life and a boost to quality of life. Society also benefits when a new treatment is found effective.

Despite these potential positive outcomes, there is risk involved. No treatment is guaranteed to work. Side effects are possible, even common if chemotherapy is involved. 

No one is forced to participate. Continued participation is voluntary. People can drop out of clinical trials at any time without penalty.

Costs associated with participation vary by study. Some trials involve more copays than others. Participants generally are responsible for transportation and lodging, but grants are available for people who must travel to participate.

In general, the study drug or treatment is covered by the clinical trial. If standard of care chemotherapy is involved in a trial, that’s often covered by insurance. Medications to cope with side effects are also typically covered by insurance.  

Mesothelioma Clinical Research

More than 100 mesothelioma clinical trials are currently taking place in the U.S.

The most promising area of research is immunotherapy. Most immunotherapy trials combine a new immunotherapy drug with chemotherapy because of increased effectiveness.

Some participants in mesothelioma immunotherapy trials have outlived their prognosis by years. Certain people seem to respond significantly more than others, and researchers attempt to identify why. Sometimes, genetics and biomarkers are potential factors that make people respond better.

Clinical trials are investigating a number of different therapies and survival factors for mesothelioma, including:  

  • Immunotherapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Photodynamic therapy
  • Intrapleural infusion of chemotherapy, cryotherapy and immunotherapy
  • Genetic factors
  • Early detection for asbestos workers
  • Tumor biomarker impact on survival

Research has determined that a combination of therapies leads to longer survival. Most people with mesothelioma undergo chemotherapy. Some are diagnosed early enough to qualify for surgery, chemotherapy and immunotherapy or radiation therapy.

Author bio: Michelle Whitmer has been a medical writer and editor for The Mesothelioma Center since 2008. Focused on the benefits of integrative medicine for cancer patients, Michelle is a certified yoga instructor, member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine and graduated from Rollins College in Florida.

Michelle Whitmer's picture

Michelle Whitmer

Featured on podcasts and in medical publications, Michelle serves as an authority on mesothelioma and advocates for people affected by asbestos-related disease.

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